Katatonia - The Fall Of HeartsYou might consider a band to be losing momentum when they go four years without releasing any original music, yet Katatonia‘s profile has risen since 2012’s Dead End Kings. With two live albums as well as Dethrowned and Uncrowned – a mellow reworking of Dead End Kings – under their collective belt since then, they’ve managed to keep their name in the press despite a lack of new material. If any band deserves this continued level of recognition and praise it’s Katatonia, but their development into a polished, modern rock outfit has resulted in a rather business-like approach to their output. While still writing some excellent songs, their sound has barely changed since 2006’s The Great Cold Distance, in stark contrast to the exciting musical development they exhibited in the first half of their career. I rarely return to their last two studio records, and assumed they would be content with releasing live albums and milking The Great Cold Distance‘s successful formula for the foreseeable future.

Wonderfully, The Fall of Hearts makes a mockery of my cynicism. Though still easily recognizable as New Millennium Katatonia1, the band have progressed their sound further than on any record since 2003’s Viva Emptiness. “Progressed” being the operative word: The Fall of Hearts is a fully fledged progressive metal record rather than merely hinting progwards like much of their prior art. Opener “Takeover” is a perfect demonstration of this new approach, its combination of luscious clean guitar and synth sections, triplet-dense heavy riffs, and inventive rhythms taking inspiration from Porcupine Tree, Tool, and Opeth while maintaining Katatonia‘s distinctive core sound. It’s also the longest track they’ve penned since Brave Murder Day, lasting over seven minutes, and worth every second.

This experimentation isn’t confined to the opener. While they don’t skimp on heavy riffs, The Fall of Hearts contains a great deal of beautifully written soft material. “Shifts” recalls the triplet lilt of Viva Emptiness‘ “One Year from Now,” “Pale Flag” floats over simple acoustic riffs accompanied by succulent synths and tasteful bongos2, while the agonizing “Decima” is almost unbearably tragic, the despair lifting only for a moment for some Opethian chord transitions in its mid-section. But the most interesting experimentation is reserved for heavier parts: the Soen-esque groove of “Residual,” the surprising harmonic movements in “Serac” and “The Night Subscriber,” the sinister descending synth line and distressing, unresolved ending of final track “Passer” – The Fall of Hearts is packed with such invention. Even the more traditional tracks surpass what Katatonia have written before, especially the fabulous “Serein” and “Last Song Before the Fade,” which are sure to become live favorites.

Katatonia-2016

While each song has a distinctive character, they fit together perfectly: the band has clearly put plenty of thought into the album’s flow. This is just as well given its sixty-seven-minute running time,3 and save for the Katatonia-by-numbers of “Sanction,” every moment feels necessary. The new members acquit themselves well: Daniel Moilanen’s drumming is imaginative without becoming intrusive, and Roger Öjersson provides some classy guitar solos that further enhance the record’s progressive feel. As usual the production is simultaneously warm, enveloping, and polished. While I’m all for feeling warm and enveloped, the polish is a little heavily applied for my tastes, but I’m really nit-picking at what is a lovely overall sound.

Minor gripes aside, it is fantastic to hear Katatonia expanding their horizons after years of relative stagnation. Given my love for the simplicity of their Discouraged Ones/Tonight’s Decision period it’s perhaps surprising that I’m so enthusiastic about their move in the opposite musical direction, but the expert incorporation of these new ideas into their established sound and the sheer quality of the writing is undeniable. This is the most exciting music they have crafted in over a decade, and is essential listening whatever your preferred Kataton-era.


Rating: Great!
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 16-bit/44kHz FLAC
Label: Peaceville Records

Show 3 footnotes

  1. Christ
  2. I can’t believe I just wrote “tasteful bongos”
  3. They really have gone full prog
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  • Grumpyrocker

    Yup, it’s a great album.

  • mtlman1990

    Meh, I miss “The Great Cold Distance”

    • Necrocustard

      Totally agree. BMD was where I picked up on Katatonia and while I still enjoy the new material I can keep returning to that record.

      • basenjibrian

        I am KULT! DANCE OF DECEMBER SOULS or GO HOME!
        :)

        • Necrocustard

          Sadly I am not Kult and find DoDS rather uninteresting :(

    • Brave Murder Day has some of the best riffs but generally quite poo songwriting. I like it, but their musicianship is such now that they’d never be able to do a record like that again – they’d have to fake the rawness and naivety.

      • Wilhelm

        Songwriting on BMD was simple on purpose, they used the shoegazer repetitive downstrokes as a means of effect, not as an act of musical ignorance. Look at Diabolical Masquerade, and you’ll find that anders, was, at least, proficiant in more complex arrangements.

        • Simple is fine, it’s more the random transitions and a few ropey riffs. I like the shoegaze-repetitive-downstroke style :)

    • I kinda don’t. I mean, I love it, but I really like later Katatonia quite a lot. I think their first stuff is good, but they are a bit like Anathema: they peaked a bit later.

      • Kryopsis

        The comparison to Anathema is very apt!

  • Jm from nj

    Dead End Kings was the low point in their discography for me. Seemed to be a but meandering, except for a couple of songs. Everything else this band has done has been marvelous to these ears.

    That said, I was a little worried upon initial listens. I’m more a fan of the direct, streamlined Katatonia, but I can see how that formula may be old to them. Where DEK maybe tried to introduce more progressive song writing, I feel it failed more than succeeded. After listening to this new one a bunch, it has grown on me (finally) and is starting to take hold in a way that DEK never could.

    For me, It still won’t sit next to those albums from “tonights decision” through “night is the new day”, where I don’t think they made a misstep, but it’s a new chapter and it’s good.

  • Stefunal

    The first album I’ve ever heard of them, and I must say, I’m eager to explore the rest of their discography. Might become my genre favorite, along with Anathema.

    • Grymm

      The Great Cold Distance.

      Do it!

    • DrChocolate

      As an Ed-McMahon-audience-teen-girl-squealing-card-caring-fanboy the only correct answer here is “Last Fair Deal Gone Down.” Any other answer is the wrong answer.

    • Wilhelm

      Try every album, each one has something special to offer. Working your way backwards might not be a bad strategy.

  • Paul Stella II

    I think “The Great Cold Distance” is their most memorable collection of songs. “July” still gives me goosebumps, 10 years later. No album since has fully engaged me, despite my general proclivity for the progressive elements in every successive album.

    • Paul Stella II

      Viva Emptiness probably has a tie for me in the regard of memorable tracks.

      • 517H

        Viva is my fave album of theirs for sure. The last 3 songs on the album makes for such an amazing mini musical journey. Got to listen to it right now

      • Wilhelm

        Viva is a great album, you can hear the bitterness and anguish more in that one than others.

    • euthanatos

      agreed, but holy shitballs, TGCD has 10 years already? I’m depressed now.

    • Wilhelm

      I love all katatonia but TGCD is one of my least favs, its poppy numbers drag down the stronger compositions.

    • IBlackened

      To me, until 1999 (first 4 records and EPs) they were almost perfect. Simple, depressive, melancholic music. Disliked most LFDGD, liked half songs from Viva Emptiness and TGCD, but now I can barely stand them.They’re going further from Doom Metal with each release.

      • They haven’t been doom since BMD really. The old-old stuff has some stunning moments but much of it is really badly written (like the first 2 Opeths).

        • Wilhelm

          Morningrise was badly written? riiiight

          • Yeah dude, great riffs and melodies but largely randomly strung together into overly long songs. They hadn’t got their transitions down so well at that point either. Better than Orchid but wayyy behind Still Life (and a fair bit behind MAYH)

          • TLFernandes

            Still Life the start of Opeth’s decline…

        • IBlackened

          Doom metal was not the best way to explain what I was trying to say. I meant they’re becoming less introspective, sorrowful, depressed as long as music goes. They sound bland to me now. I can’t feel that sadness that was so strong in their first records.

          • Got you. I think they still deliver with the sads, but in a different way so I can understand missing the old feeling

        • TLFernandes

          Everyone has his own taste, but saying that Morningrise was a bad album… no more drugs please

    • Enrico Pallazzo

      I really don’t understand people who say “The Great Cold Distance” is their best.

      • Paul Stella II

        I explained why it’s my favorite: to me, it has the most memorable collection of tracks.

      • Oscar Albretsen

        Yeah, it’s hard to understand people that aren’t you.

    • “In the White” is my favorite Katatonia song ever. EVAH.

      • It has a totally Deftones bassline. Almost porno groove.

      • Bloated Goat

        I think it’s mine, too.

    • Oscar Albretsen

      I have a compilation called “Introduction to Katatonia” that I really love. Could be longer, but they’ve always struck me as a great compilation band.

  • bob

    Heh, this one left me with the impression that it felt lackluster. Too much keyboards, not enough grip. Writing felt uninspired, almost to the point where I feel all songs sounded alike and cannot be readily identified. They could stop writing new music right now as it feels like they are just going through the motions and none of the new stuff matters or stands out.

    • I feel completely the opposite about basically everything you said :D

  • Jay

    I honestly don’t get the new direction. Katatonia have been one of my favorite bands for a while and from Viva Emptiness to Great Cold Distance to Night is the New Day, every album continued to get better.

    There are a few tracks I liked on Dead End Kings (Lethean is amazing, Racing Heart was decent) but for the most part, it just felt a bit off. This album seems to be a continuation with what DEK started. If you liked DEK, you’ll probably like this as well. If you didn’t (which I didn’t), you’ll probably be disappointed. It’s not a BAD album, it just is nowhere near Katatonia standards. But if this is the new Katatonia (and it appears that it is), I’m not really interested anymore. Hard not to expect a change in direction when a good portion of the band have left though (Daniel, Mattis, and Fredrik).

    Akerfeldt’s progressive influence seems to be ruining yet another band . . . Awesome.

    • Thatguy

      Fuck reProg and all who sail in her, but I like this.

    • MelbCro

      Pretty sure Katatonia had strong prog influences going all the way back to December Souls, that album basically gave Akerfeldt his blueprint for Opeth, and the same can be said for Agalloch.

    • DrChocolate

      On the contrary, I was nearly bored to tears with DEK. Adore this album.

  • tomasjacobi

    I don’t understand all the hate for “Dead End Kings”. For me, “Night is the New Day” is the dud in an otherwise excellent discography. That album felt so uninspired and I have been unable to get into it even though I’ve tried many times.
    DEK was a great return to form and I really like the new one as well.

    • Kronos

      I acually really agree with this. I love DEK and “Night is the New Day” felt kind of cheesy to me, despite being heavier.

    • Bloated Goat

      Agreed about DEKs superiority to NitND

      • Totally. They are not even in the same league in my book. I actually think DEKs is in many respects a reaction to how poor NitND turned out.

    • Wilhelm

      I think they are both great albums in their own right. Night kind of started their foray to the progressive genre, and was a good deal darker than TGCD – DEK took the compositions to a new height, and was a bit more extroverted, if that makes sense. Idle Blood vs Racing Heart? who cares? both are amazing.

    • I think they’re roughly even – DEK is perhaps more consistent but NitND has more stand-out moments. But I don’t think either of them are anywhere near as good as this new one, or as Viva Emptiness, LFTGD…

    • Stefano Kevin Prince Vitali

      I totally agree, altought NitND has a masterpiece called The Longest Year where DEK has better songs overall but no standouts

    • DEK and NItND are both weak imo.

      • tomasjacobi

        I have analysed your statement and found it to contain 50% truth and 50% utter bollocks.

        • Jm from nj

          Agree. DEK is weak. NiTND isn’t.

          • tomasjacobi

            I see what you did there…

      • markus o

        i love every bloody thing they’ve done. (except dance of december souls, maybe. too formulaic and immature). am i strange?

  • Nag Dammit

    Great review captain. I’ve been waiting for this one as I’ve wanted to see if my liking it was just due to me being a soft, middle aged, out of touch progger. Whilst that is most definitely the case, I’m glad that the album is getting such good press, which either proves I’m right or that all the blogs I read are written by other soft, middle aged, out of touch proggers?

    I really rate all the songs on it and totally agree that it is the most cohesive album of their new era. I imagine it like their ‘Pale Communion’, where they’ve finally locked in on their new direction and have produced the album they’ve been trying to produce for a while.

    Great writing and great musicianship has kept me coming back to it, which wasn’t the case with their last few (save the mid section of ‘Viva’).

  • basenjibrian

    I am a major Katatonia groupie, so this was a good one for me. I saw them live with Opeth….that was an awesome show! (Mikael Akerfeldt is a great front man for Opeth!)

  • More than anything else I think this is a moody record. In the “you have to be in the proper mood” sense. And I don’t think I’ve been on that particular mood yet. I still wanna check how some of the new songs work live alongside the classics and I probably will next August because they always give killer shows.

    Great review!

    • AlphaBetaFoxface

      It does make for some nice background music, though I do agree for the most part. Took me some time before I felt ready to sink into it, but the patience paid off.

      Though regardless of high praise I may throw at it, I feel like Votum’s release earlier this year did mood-contextual sadboy metal better.

      • Huh, I may have missed that one due my self imposed retreat. Queuing it up.

  • Bloated Goat

    I just can’t get into this. I love every single Katatonia album but I just find this album boring.

  • TminusEight

    Great news, I’ll pick this one up for sure. I love the way that with a Katatonia record I can know I’ll be able to put it on in the room, loud, and it’ll sound fantastic. Can’t wait.

  • I’ve just never been able to get into Katatonia. I find everything they’ve done to be dull and plain. Even though they are different, I think of them like I think of Amorphis, just middle of the road and bland, lacking in the songwriting department. I can never remember any of their stuff after I’ve finished listening to it.The embedded track doesn’t change my mind. This sort of music needs a good chorus and there’s nothing here. I don’t like how they fit in extra syllables in certain parts either. It can be used as an effect, but here it just sounds like they’re trying to squash it in.

    • Reese Burns

      I really like Katatonia, but you’re right about that thing with the syllables.

    • Their more recent stuff isn’t so good on the vocal hooks I’ll grant you, but I definitely think a lot of it is super catchy. Have you tried Tonight’s Decision?

      • I like this album more than Tonight’s Decision, which I think is really flat, lacking in energy and songwriting. Each to their own I guess. Anyway, I just picked up the new Rage cd and I’ve got to get home and listen to it. Damn car doesn’t have a cd player, only mp3 support.

  • Bart the Repairman

    I waited for this a long time, with lots of bad feelings. Dead End Kings was excellent, but then came anemic acoustic reworks and apathetic live album, which made me worry that Katatonia is lost forever in the land of boredom.

    I’m so glad I was wrong.

  • gustman17

    This new release is one of my favourites by them. It’s like they are capitalising on all the proggier elements featured in NitND and DEK, and it features some of their best songs ever (Serac, Residual). Though it is proggier, it is also their most addictive and catchy from their “modern” era aside from TGCD.

    BTW, It’s really fun to read how everyone loves and hates different albums from their discography.

    How it igoes for me:
    BMD: great sound and mood; hypnotic
    DO: streamlined, catchier BMD
    TD: an inconsistent expansion on DO
    LFDGD: the most varied and “rockier” release; a bit inconsistent but some great highs (Dispossession > everything else in existence)
    VE: their dullest and silliest one, terrible lyrics
    TGCD: capitalises on everything good from LFDGD and VE; depression should not be this catchy
    NitND: slow burner, varied but lacks more memorable songs, perfect melding of guitars and electronics for ambiance; Departer wins “saddest Katatonia song” award
    DEK: very detailed and some catchy numbers, but feels a bit homogenous after a while (still better than VE), lovely cover art

    • MelbCro

      Ignored December Souls, so your analysis is invalid. INVALID!

      • gustman17

        Allow me to make an amend of my mistake:

        “DotDS: the one with the seriously abject cover art”.

        I hope this is satisfactory.

  • Wilhelm

    Katatonia has been a lifelong friend, I discovered them right around the BMD album and they haven’t disappointed me yet, in fact their albums make mockery of most bands who try so hard to release emotional music…ok so my thoughts on the new one.

    It was a really hard album for me to grasp, but after listening to it constantly it clicked and god damn to I want to keep listening to it; it’s a far less catchy album then even Dead End Kings was – it has no burners like Buildings or Forsaker, but the compositions are more thought out – there’s a more careful attention to the details and dynamics. Lyrically, Jonas is at 100% and vocally Jonas is just off the charts; Songs like Decima and Shifts give me chills – I really think he is actually getting better.

    The production/mixing sounds full of life and the effects used (vocal and otherwise) sound very rich. It’s definitely a darker outing than DEK and probably more adventurous, although DEK was amazing in it’s own way, can’t understand the hate.

    It’s my favorite release this year so far, I only think Moonsorrow has come close.

  • Coren

    I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who thought Katatonia’s latest releases were an uninspired bore. The last time I got excited by something they did, was when they released the studio version of Unfurl. A gorgeous, moody song that I hoped signaled new horizons for a band I felt had lost a bit of its sense of melody. (While I think The Great Cold Distance was great, I’m still a bigger fan of their LFDGD era)

    Instead they churned out a couple of albums that rehashed the quickly-tiring TGCD formula, but badly, to the extent that they made me think they forgot that you could write melodies with more than two notes. And then they made the insane decision of stripping away everything else, too, for the maddeningly boring Dethroned & Uncrowned and Sanctitude. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate bands following their inspiration to unexplored territory, but in my opinion these were failed experiments.

    I listened to The Fall of Hearts with every expectation of being further disappointed. But I wasn’t! I’m happy to say that it’s a fascinating album. It takes some getting used to, you need to be in the right mood, and maybe on occasion you’ll feel that Katatonia hung out with Opeth a bit too much, but it’s a genuinely interesting record. Not my record of the year, probably, but a reassurance that Katatonia haven’t “lost it”, and that they may be heading in interesting directions again.

    So, tl;dr, if you had all but given up on the band, swallow your pride and give them another chance. This album is pretty good!

  • A Feed From Cloud Mountain

    Just to point out: “Dethrowned” (very top), I think you mean Dethroned.

    Thanks for the review though. I’ve been putting off this purchase because I thought by now for sure Kata’s sound would be stale, but if they’ve mixed it up enough to be interesting then I’ll check it out.

    I guess I’m in the minority who thought DEK was weak compared to NitND. For me though, Last Fair Day Gone Night is the ultimate Katatonia release, and one I’ll gladly listen to any (fair) day of the week.

  • Noobhammer

    I love this record. Katatonia has always been one of the most consistent bands in the game, constantly evolving yet putting out stellar work.

    I remember picking up The Great Cold Distance and being blown away, then immediately, frantically searching for the past records and falling in love with, what I think is their best, “Last Fair Deal Gone Down”. I love their songwriting style. I remember interviewing Anders for my local college station back in the day, and he said that he writes every album with a color in mind, and that his songs on that album must reflect that color. I can see these guys evolving into a darker Anathema, which would be perfectly fine by me.

  • Whiskeyjack

    I have had this album on non stop for the past two weeks, to me this is easily there best work since “The Great Cold Distance”.

  • sir_c

    I first learned about them in ’93 with Dance of December Souls. Even though it may not be their most remarkable work, I have a soft spot for it. Its melancholic, drowning sound does bring back memories.

    This new album is pretty stunning, and like what others said, sits at the top of the pile, together with TGCD and Viva.

  • Scourge

    I’m kind of a noob to Katatonia having only listened to them for the last couple of years, but I think GCD, VE, and LFDGD are all pretty untouchable, with GCD probably being the best of those three. I think they distilled their sound perfectly by GCD and then put out NitND, which was impossible for me to get into because I couldn’t find anything to latch onto on that album, and so I skipped DEK and the subsequent rehash/live releases.

    When they promo’d two tracks from this album, I immediately connected with the new material. Having now listened to the album in its entirety, I honestly think it’s as good as GCD. Different, but just as good.

  • Wilhelm

    Any opinions about Bruce Soord’s surround mix on the bonus DVD?

    • Sadly haven’t got access to either that or a surround sound system…

  • Great review, I’ve been waiting for it so long I was afraid it wouldn’t arrive at all. I love the album so much, and it’s nice to read others too think it’s great.

  • JL

    I was so disappointed by this record. Nothing memorable at all for me on this one. The songs just sound so random, like the band was jamming in a high end studio and recorded the output for this record. The album itself sounds great, and individual performances are solid with Renkse being the absolute highlight, but the songs just do nothing for me. So I decided to listen to the new Crystal Palace record and I am totally hooked on that one. Such quality. Like a more elegant Threshold.

  • Oscar Albretsen

    Wow, you finally reviewed this one, sweet. I’ve been digging on this album.

  • This is not a great album Katatonia should return to their roots of 10 years ago and make solid shits not this softy ones.
    Although their fellows Anathema are great at softy progressive ones but Katatonia should make what they make better solid ones…
    Just my opinions of the two bands.
    I’m the fan of both since I stared my metal journey with them

    • SegaGenitals

      But these are nice, soft shits.

  • AnnieK13

    Finally got round to picking this up and am really enjoying it. Definitely one of my favorite releases this year.